OUT OF ESSEX – Chapter 17
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
Tao Te Ching
Mary Fawkes gently pulled the sheet, quilt cover and pillowcases off the bed. How could that just have happened? Dan was 53. She was two years younger.
Opening the curtains, she was hit by the tapestry of roses blooming up and down the suburban front gardens. Oranges, reds, purples and creams. Dan should have been exhausted. Instead he was already outside in the early July sunshine, whistling, loading the caravan, in which they would spend the next month. Then back to Chelmsford with Rose and Edward for a fortnight. After that, it was unscheduled, to be made up as they went along.
Dan had been bubbling for weeks: cracking jokes, acting like he was 24, when they first met.
The financial weight lifted from them was one factor. Each daily check of the joint bank account indicated that they might never have to worry about money again. Clifford, bless him, had seen to that, in his hard-fisted negotiations over the royalties from Dan’s video, and the rights to his story. It also meant that Dan could invest, if that was the word, his currently plentiful spare income in the Southend park experiment. Whatever that might turn out to be.
In search of ingredients, they had met up with Micky Gaze again, two days ago. The sight of the Crooked Billet made Mary tremble, memories rushing back. She heard Russian and Chinese accents in the public bar. It was the oddest thing, unfair somehow, how tourists now flocked to the much-celebrated ‘intactness’ of old Leigh. While much of Southend groaned under the herculean task of reconstructing miles of wrecked seafront buildings.
Micky was still a stranger, so they had knocked back the double Bowmores to help leapfrog the conversational uncertainties. Bending themselves back into 12 May spirits. “Let’s refer to you-know-who as Sal” said Dan, looking furtively around the crowded bar. “Where did you first meet him Micky?”
“Down at the casino, a couple of years ago. He’d been looking at me for a couple of minutes, by one of the roulette tables. Then he asked to borrow two quid. He was so bloody tall, and intimidating. So I said yes, to get rid of him. Then I watched him place it on black ten times in a row. Matching his clothes. Every time putting it all back on, and winning.”
Mary worked it out. Over £2,000. “So that was……his ATM while he was here? A roulette table?”
“He paid me back £200 for the £2 loan. That night they actually banned him from playing again. He said it was the fourth time he’d taken two grand from them. He asked for my mobile number. After that, I was his ATM, for each visit. Seems I just got paid back.”
“How the hell did we end up in this story?” asked Dan. “Do we get to meet God in the last chapter?”
Ex-fireman Micky didn’t know. But he oozed practicality. He told them he had built parts of his own house. He could wire and plumb. Sort out car engines. Heating systems.
He was pleased as punch that a guy named Dave Dawson had been in touch. “This bloke badly wanted to know who the park’s new owner was. His house overlooks the place. I dunno if he’s mad or can see into the bloody future. But he reckons he’s known for years that some sort of apocalypse was coming. He’s stored up a seed bank, and other survival stuff. Somehow, he seems just right for what we’re doing. So I told him all about the project. I mean everything. And he wants in.”
Micky said they had met up, down at the Railway Hotel in central Southend. “He’s a local, lived in Southchurch all his life. We’re gonna need every bit of help that’s out there.”
Mick shook his head, grinning. “And he’s only gone and told me that the real King of England was some elderly geezer living in Australia. Remember that historian Tony Robinson?”
“He played Baldric in Blackadder!” recalled Mary.
“That’s the bloke. Well funny. Anyway, Dave swore blind that Tony Robinson proved in 2004, in one of his history programmes, that the current bunch on the British throne are illegitimate. ‘Pretenders’, he called them.”
Mary had watched Dan light up at that, and almost everything else Micky mentioned. The joint responsibility for the “moneyless” park’s finances; helping its unknown incomers bed in; and the serious physical work to be done.
“I’ve been half-killing myself, Mick, doing other people’s work, for much too long,” Dan sighed. “I never knew that this was coming, or that I would want it so much.”
Mary’s brain was seething, dancing, pirouetting around the mind-shattering fact that Gandhi and the Buddha would be active again, living amongst them, according to Micky. With Satan as their ‘minder’! However hard she pinched herself, their lives kept turning somersaults, flipping into deeper unknowns.
Best of all was how her husband was such a joy to be with again. What they had just experienced was wild and surely impossible. He had taken her up against the bedroom wall.
Then pulled her down to the floor, remarking on her wetness, before releasing a second spurt. “Jesus Dan, it’s like I’m thirty years younger – I’ve got a bloody wide on,” she moaned.
Twenty minutes later, another climax together, using their mouths. She had described it as “the fuck of the century”, laying in his arms, still adrift in pleasure.
“Have you taken a pill?” she laughed.
“Not yet,” he said, still panting, kissing her throat. “Hopefully not ever.” He was straight about that kind of stuff. But never that straight, and for that long.
“We nearly died on May 12,” he whispered. The tsunami still towered in her dreams, the wave surging up the hill towards them with a power that took away the breath. Like yesterday, she remembered Dan’s reassurance. “It won’t reach us.” And holding her so tightly that she could not run.
He tickled her armpit, looking in her eyes. “It’s all a bonus from now on. And someone has put a new battery in me, Mary Fawkes. Charged me up with joy.”
And here they were, packed and ready to go. The house was tidy. Her boss at the London university had agreed to an ultra-flexible working schedule over the remainder of the year. “Don’t forget about us Mary. You’re my brightest researcher.”
Rose was a little worried about looking after Ed, who was 14. Mary felt her daughter was engaging in a silent trade: the washing and cooking, for the use of the house with her college friends and boyfriends.
Her note kept it simple. “Just call me whenever you need, darling. We can drive back in less than an hour. You’ve got money. We love you.”
She was a mum though. Thoughts of what could go wrong assailed her as they drove south-east down the A120, towards Rettendon Turnpike, in the afternoon brightness. Would Rose be aware if Ed didn’t come home, if she was otherwise engaged with her friends? Would they eat properly? What if they forget to turn off the gas cooker?
“Dan, what will happen to them if we never come back?”